Day 144 - Khsuuj to south of Sukhbaatar- Wed 17 Jul
Crisp bright morning, leisurely start today as we will be meandering waiting for Miles to catch up. GirlRob walked up slope to cemetery, layout most like our western customs to date, single headstone at top of marked rectangular plot, some enclosed by wrought iron eg bed frame. Date and inscription carved on stone or etched on mound covering. Tranquil spot with a variety of spongy ground cover and small wild flowers. Walked back with tiny grasshoppers scattering in front of each step, via herd of cows and bulls grazing over hills. Herds co-habit easily, horses, sheep, goats and cows.
Cold running streams running at base of hills. Saw dark horse being led reluctantly across road towards gers by bareback rider - is he the errant horse of last night?? Tree line on hills -our first sight of thick pine woods close to the road. New province, bad roads, but meadows full of wild flowers in yellows, purples, lilacs and cream. More wood being used in scattered communities, houses and fences - Russian influence?? Morning becoming colder, smoke coming from flumes on gers. Fermented mare's milk available for sale on roadside stalls - have heard can sometimes be fatal! What are these scattered heavy concrete bunkers half buried in mounds, with narrow, small doorways? (Winter toilets? One-person shelters dotted along roads in case people are caught out in open in winter??) So much evidence of depth of cold in winter (which we hear gets down to 40 degrees below), heavy casements, double glazing, small/narrow windows, and not many of them, narrow opening from outside into small porch area with another heavy door beyond before you can move into main part of shop or house – a buffer from cold outside. Makes it appear unwelcoming esp shop, but functional/ practical. Have seen steel, concrete, wooden gers for same reason, insulation, and use of non-breathable heavy duty plastics and synthetics.
Crossed railway (Beijing to Moscow train?) at Bayangol, nestled at base of mountains. Tidy town, work gangs cleaning debris from sides of road, burning off tyres (also used to heat bitumen before laying). Nice to see town pride after rubbish of earlier communities. Rolling hills, hectares of sown grains/ wheat, interrupted only by natural features eg gullies, greener than grasslands, with no flowers, no fences. Through Khongol with its decaying Russian infrastructure (“Mongolian Chemical 1992”). Sign to show reached outskirts - the name of the town crossed out with a red line. Fields of gold - canola?
On to Darkhan for lunch stop – we paid 2000TG toll but Guy only paid 1000TG! 50mts down we followed the local traffic around another tollbooth rather than stopping, but in the rear-view mirror noticed attendant shake his head and speak into walkie talkie (problem?). Darkhan much nicer presented city than Ulaanbaatar, a looked-after feel, gutters clear, buildings maintained and painted, electric wires tied back neatly, no rubbish. And, pleasant surprise, a bakery with chocolate eclairs (but no power!) Had steak at Texas Pub (so no need to cook the one defrosting in fridge tonight now). Message from Miles, not leaving UB until late arvo, not sure if he will catch us before border crossing. Drove out of town past tollbooth on other side of road (and did we imagine the blowing of a whistle??) GnC following us got pulled over and had to pay another toll of 2000TG (for exiting town?) It’s hard when you don’t understand the system (and we hoped it wasn’t anything to do with us!) Passed a salt-rimmed body of water, small ovuus along road, and some pretty ugly monuments. Areas of wetlands, scrubby bushes appearing at sides of roads.
Detoured into Dulaankhaan to see bow and arrow factory, 3 fellows working, ibex horn used at front of bow, hamstring tendons belted into fibres, put into "sandwich" at rear. Grip formed from tendon, wrapped and glued. String circlet tensioned to slip into slot at top of string. Very light to hold, need strength to pull back. Gelatinous glue (made from animal hooves?) Past part of Trans-Siberian Railway. Russet coloured gerbils ran across tree-lined concrete road. Back on main Ulan Uud road, tried to get into Tujyn Sars national park, but barrier locked, and woman in nearby house did not understand what we wanted. Further along pulled into agricultural sheds/ wheat silos and farmer agreed we could go up into hills near pine trees, 25km south of Sukhbaatar.
Camped on plateau in among fields of wild flowers and butterflies. Flies as large as bees, and bees as large as sparrows, no bother from insects though until the mossies came out at dusk. Salad rolls and chocolate eclairs for dinner. Wrote Mongolian postcards ready for last chance mail tomorrow before crossing into Russia (still carrying around unwritten stamped Terracotta Warriors from China... don't want another set of cards/ stamps to be made redundant!) Drew route covered to date on Ozzie's map - it was time!! Soft sunset over hills through the pines.